Inside Tom's Head - July 2020

11 Aug 2020

July seemed to pass much more quickly than June, which is probably a good thing, since my (our?) subjective experience of time probably has something to do with the density of relevant events, or in the case of 2020, crises. I kept on wanting to write stuff, but between work being miserable this month and spending a ton of time on yardwork, I haven’t had the oomph to do so. Also, this post is coming out much later than I had planned. Between work being rough and a vacation, I haven’t wanted to make time to write this up until now.


The pandemic continues, and our response continues to disappoint (in the US, at least). Locally, cases have been steadily rising, but not yet to the point where we are overwhelming our hospital resources. I’m going in to work 4-5 days a week, which definitely has some risk even though we are taking reasonable precautions, but really I’m just waiting for the notification that someone in my building has tested positive, at which point we will pretty much all be exposed and I will expose my family. I can picture our some future society looking at what is happening in the US right now (and in the rest of the world to a lesser degree) and shake their heads at how tightly we have chained ourselves to wheels of capitalism, where the first question, even in the teeth of a pandemic, is never “What is best for everyone?” but rather “What is best for the owners?”. Even working at a library, which is decoupled from the economy just about as much as is possible these days, the forces of capitalism are at work.

On a related note, I saw an interesting article on hygiene theater, which is exactly what it sounds like, the pandemic version of security theater. However, I think that it’s even worse than the article makes it out to be. For example, due to concerns about transmission through contaminated surfaces, my library system requires us to quarantine all returned materials for 4 days. This isn’t really problematic in and of itself, but with our volume that means our big bins fill up really quickly (last week we filled all three of them in less than a day), meaning that we need to use small boxes the rest of the time. However, the small boxes fill up even more quickly (many of our patrons will return 1-2 boxes worth of materials at a time), meaning we have to spend a lot more time interacting with the public handling returns. I applaud the intent behind the procedure, but in trying to limit our exposure to a low risk situation, our administration has increased our exposure to a higher risk situation. In addition, storing all that stuff takes up a lot of room, making it harder to socially distance while working, which again increases our risk.

  • To be clear, I do feel safe at work. They have been very good about things like requiring masks and we have a lot of leeway to ensure that we are avoiding unnecessary contact (if there are people near the returns, we wait until they leave to empty them, for example). Also, everyone has been very good about finding ways to work as safely as possible, and it seems that we impotence things a little every day.
  • Also, I am not advocating against cleaning surfaces, even if it makes only a tiny bit safer. My issue is that we might be taking actions to prevent a little bit of risk but that those actions incur more risk from other sources. At home we are still cleaning/quarantining our groceries, mail, and packages.
  • The pandemic is making us question the connection between work and money. That’s a good thing
  • The pandemic has been a boon for animals as roadkill decreases. We should try to find ways of keeping it this way.
  • Apparently the rich own so much of our society right now that when they stopped spending at the start of the pandemic, it tanked the economy. Granted, it wasn’t just them, but as the article states, “the wealthiest 25% of Americans account for fully two-thirds of the total decline in spending since January”. I would have guessed that this effect would have been a result of broader trends, but in hindsight it makes sense, most people don’t have much money for discretionary spending so it’s not like they are going to stop buying stuff if they can avoid it.
  • Schooling in the US this fall is going to be painful either way. Of course, this has a lot to do with housework being untracked and unpaid (and unfairly burdensome on women). This is one of the best arguments for Universal Basic Income that I’ve heard (and there are a lot of good arguments for it, in my opinion).

Stuff Happening Elsewhere

  • Bike-powered cargo haulers. This is pretty cool, and I imagine that in 10-20 years we will see more stuff like this as climate change ramps up.
  • Honestly, I think that the best approach to social media is to avoid it entirely, but if you are going to use it, stoicism has some useful tools for you.
  • It’s good to remember that even in this deeply problematic time, there’s still plenty of unexplained weird stuff out there. It makes me happy to think that in the midst of everything that’s happening, there are people out there who are spending their time trying to figure out what some weird object in space is. Anyone who says that this sort of work isn’t important and shouldn’t be funded probably should never be in charge of anything.
  • An opinion piece in the New York Times makes a compelling argument for banning cars from Manhattan. It argues that cars make every sort of transportation (cars included) more terrible. I would argue that cars make every aspect of city life more terrible.
  • It says something that police are much more worried about ‘antifa’ than they are about the far right, even though one group has a history of killing police officers (hint, it isn’t antifa, which is only a group in the same way that feminism is a group, which is to say it isn’t).
  • A surprisingly good read on how trucking deregulation created big box stores.
  • If you had asked me at the beginning of the month, I would have said that poor people are over-represented in the military. Apparently I was wrong
  • A propasal for a (partially) wooden bridge in Seattle that looks pretty cool.
  • This has been sitting as an open tab on my phone for over a year now, but I finally read it, and I’m glad I kept it open. The Story of Carolina Gold, the Best Rice You’ve Never Tasted. We just bought a big bag of super-tasty sushi rice, but once we’ve eaten through some of that, I’ll definitely be getting some Carolina Gold.
  • Even if it isn’t an immediate fix, a wealth tax is probably necessary, and the sooner we start working on it, the better. “It won’t solve our immediate problems” isn’t a good argument for delaying it. However, since it is likely a very unpopular idea to the powerful, it will probably be a while. In the meantime, we can start by properly funding the IRS.
  • The Legacy of Arctic Explorer Matthew Henson. I ran across a link to this in an article on Outside about creating an anti-racist outdoor industry. I think that there is a lot to be said about how important it is to see yourself represented in media (an idea I first ran across while reading Blue Rage, Black Redemption. I’ll try to share more of this sort of thing as I run across it.

What I’m reading/listening to/playing/whatever

  • I’m still reading Worm, which is still excellent. I find that sometimes I only read a little bit for a week or two, then other times I’m reading it every chance I get. I still love it, and feeling the freedom to take my time with it has been one of the (expected) benefits of abandoning reading goals (or rather, having a goal of reading fewer books).
  • I’m gradually working through Private Government by Elizabeth Anderson. I probably wouldn’t be reading it save for an article about the author in the New Yorker that sat in my open tabs for like a year (Yeah, I have a tab problem. No, I’m not going to just bookmark things). It’s a tough read, definitely more academic philosophy than pop science, but so far the payoff has been great. Unfortunately it feels as though it is getting more relevant as many of us are being compelled to ignore the advice of health professionals (tl;dr stay home) by our employers. I hope to have something worthwhile to say about it in the next few months.
  • I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack quite a bit after watching the filmed performance on Disney+. It’s really good, but I probably wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much if I hadn’t watched first (I may be wrong on that count). The production feels a bit like a hagiography, but the music was amazing and I honestly don’t know enough about the subject to state whether or not I agree with it.
  • I’m almost 90% done with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Somehow this goofy crossover seems to be on a level with the original Final Fantasy Tactics (which I still consider the best game ever made). I’m really impressed. I’ll write more about it once I finish it (and the DLC).